Political patronage and the public administration

Political patronage and the public administration

Political patronage has been a time-honored feature of Albanian’s political system. In this regard we have to distinguish between “traditional clientelism” and “machine politics”, in which ‘the political loyalty and identification of voters benefits the party as such, rather than individual politicians’.

In the last decade the politics, has introduced the so called “meritocracy clientelism” to convince all parties about patronage that ‘consists of systematic infiltration of the state machine by party devotees and the allocation of favors through it [and] characterized by an organized expansion of posts and departments in the public sector and the addition of new ones in an attempt to secure power and maintain a party’s electoral base.

Polarized competition in a two-party system is, of course, only one side of the patronage coin; the other side is statism, that is, the expansion of the state in all areas of public life, which thus becomes “a major aspect of Albanian political culture, not only as an ideology and practice, but also as a core social expectation”.

A tradition of state centralism, the large size of public administration and its extensive control over key sectors of the national economy, the overt politicization of its functions and the lack of autonomy of the bureaucracy, becomes the technical staff during the years subordinated to political authority.

State centralism, first, has deeply affected by politics which, to this date, is characterized by centralism, bureaucratization, and legalism.

Second, with regard to size, the state is the only employer which offers employment, whether on a permanent or temporary basis, to approximately 150.000 individuals. Besides being the largest employer, the state has always aimed at asserting economic control over strategic sectors of the economy.

Such state expansion has slowed down a bit, when privatizations were initiated. Even so, to this date “government control on public corporations remains the heart of the matter”.

The third characteristic of the Albania state is the predominance of party political loyalty rather than individual merit for both recruitment and promotion in the civil service hierarchy. Every public central institution has an overabundance of political appointees who aid the top managers and who supervise and, at times, supplant top civil servants.

The fourth characteristic of the state is the bureaucracy’s lack of autonomy and its subservience to political elites. A wave of creating “independent authorities” that began in the 1990s and continued into the following decade was intended precisely to reinvigorate the status of the civil service vis-à-vis central political authority.

Patronage is particularly evident at the bottom and top ends of the public administration area, but also flourishes at the middle level in the form of preferential intrastate transfers.

Patronage is not produced by political parties acting as unitary actors. It is rather prompted by political entrepreneurs that thrive inside the two major parties, which, despite their commonly loose organizational structures and blurred ideological positions, are destined to alternate in office. A two-way logic seems to develop: the parties need those entrepreneurs who, through developing patronage networks, bring in voters, and the political entrepreneurs need the parties, especially when in office, for offering them access to state-related spoils. There is, however, an unintended consequence.

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